- Ideas are more important than the writing itself.
- Flash fiction and short stories are essential mediums for ideas.
- We need ideas that haven’t been written about before.
Welcome to the 51st episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with writer Brett Abrahamsen, who specializes in short fiction and seeks to get his readers to think deeply about the existence of the universe and their place within it.
His flash fiction piece, A NEW KIND OF APE, is an intriguing read.
It was the year A.D. 73,000,000 on Alpha Centauri.
A scientist was preparing to give a speech. The speech was to discuss a book, for which the scientist had received a prestigious honor.
The scientist’s book was only a sentence long. He had called it A New Kind of Ape. Archaeology was the dominating field at the time, and the book had reflected his discoveries in this area. Specifically, it described his excavation of the fossilized remains of a new, previously-unknown species of ape, a kind which – or so he believed – was central to evolution.
He began to speak before an appreciative – ecstatic, in fact – audience. “I feel this is the culmination of my life’s work – the thrill of discovering a new species”. He cleared his throat. “I was excavating beneath some curiously inscripted stone markers, and there were the remains, remarkably well preserved, of the unknown creature”, he added. “Following some extensive research, and the uncovering of a few more specimens in the same area, it became clear to me what this species was
known as. However” – he indicated his assistant – “I forget the name”.
The assistant produced the full text of A New Kind Of Ape. The scientist read from it:
“To my unexpected delight, I recently discovered a new kind of ape that is believed to have lived about 73 million years ago, and was supposedly at the time called” – he squinted to make out the letters –
Arthur: Tell me about your writing journey. When did you start writing? How has your writing evolved?
Brett: I have been writing virtually my entire life, with the exception of my teenage years (there is little else to occupy one’s time in Upstate New York, if you have a disposition like mine). I started writing again when I had an existential crisis at 17. I realized that life, the universe, and everything might be a figment of my imagination, and that a lot of evidence actually pointed in that direction. This inspired me to write about my observations and theorems. The main thing I’ve had to work on with my writing is converting my thought processes into something that’s actually readable. The way I think naturally is very disorderly and hard to understand, and that was how my writing was for awhile – incomprehensible and awful. It was philosophy, not literature, and it didn’t make sense to anyone except me. I also have learned to try to avoid emotion – it’s subjective, not objective. If there is any romance or even feeling at all in my stories, I’ve failed.
Arthur: In previous interviews, I seek to understand where writers get their ideas and inspiration. What ideas or common themes inspire your work?
Brett: Philosophy. The central theme of all my work is that the universe existing is unexplainable and terrifying (and maybe it doesn’t), which is something everyone knows but no one thinks about. How did “something” begin as opposed to nothing, does the universe exist, if it does exist why am I Brett instead of an insect – these are the questions that obsess me. The stories I’ve written that aren’t philosophical are generally much worse than the ones that are. I’ve also been influenced by religion. In the future, someone will most likely invent a religion that’s total nonsense and that millions of people will believe. I wrote a story about that.
Arthur: Some writers create stories where their readers can escape. Others write to get their readers thinking. What type of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Brett: Thinking. I’m not a great writer, so I have to focus on the ideas.
Arthur: What draws you to writing short fiction and flash fiction instead of longer works? Do you plan to write a longer piece?
Brett: I have a short attention span. I tried writing a novel once (a “southern gothic science fiction” work) and essentially got lost. Even twenty pages is hard to organize for me. Flash fiction retains only the most essential ideas, so it’s a lot easier for me to manage.
Arthur: Did you learn the writing craft on your own? Have you taken classes? How have you learned and honed your writing craft?
Brett: I’ve joined several writing groups, but the only time I paid money for a formal one was when I was 12. I honed my craft by emulating other writers, like Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick (I also tried to emulate Janet frame, but that didn’t work out as well). I’m still not a mastermind of grammar or sentence structure (I only got B’s in my in English classes – which was a lot better than math, at least, which I failed throughout high school). Due to this, the craft remains secondary.
Arthur: In your writing career, we’re there small successes and small failures that you learned from?
Brett: A lot of small failures. A fairly large number of people have given harsh criticism of my writing, with generally only friends (or possibly more like acquaintances) and family members enjoying them. I won $20 in an essay contest in middle school (I don’t think very many other people entered, and it was an honorable mention, at that) and a Belgian science fiction magazine recently stated that they wanted to buy one of my stories, but beyond that, I’ve experienced few successes of any kind. But I’d rather have a cult following than be a mainstream author, anyway.
Arthur: How do you promote and publicize your work? Is there a strategy which yields a better return on the marketing investment?
Brett: I don’t. Other than (obviously) sending your stories out to publications, what can you really do? I’ve thought about selling my stories on amazon, but I don’t know if anyone would find them. Besides that, there’s nothing else you can really accomplish except send your stories to random people, which is awkward.
Arthur: What is a future writing project you hope to complete one day, but perhaps aren’t ready to write yet? What is keeping you from starting? What do you need to improve to start it?
Brett: I don’t have anything in mind because if I had what seemed like a good idea, I’d have written about it. I’d love to write a novel where the protagonist is a solipsist and slowly realizes that nothing exists except him/herself, but I don’t think I have the talent. I hope that someone at some point writes a book like that (my story “The Terminus of Dream” is about a solipsist, but it’s only a few pages long). In a broader sense, I think what’s important is writing something that no one else has written before. We don’t need another romance novel or another historical novel or another action thriller. We need ideas that haven’t been written about before, even if the writing quality is not perfect.
Thank you, Brett, for sharing your ideas with us. I’m looking forward to reading more of your short works in the future.
Image Credit: GrahamTG